LOS ANGELES—“What do you want to do with me?” Pulitzer Prize-winning Filipino-American journalist Jose Antonio Vargas asked the members of the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday.
“For all the undocumented immigrants who are actually sitting here at this meeting, for the people watching online and for the 11 million of us, what do you want to do with us?” Vargas asked the lawmakers.
Vargas was testifying on behalf of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States at a hearing that opened the debate over immigration reform in the US Senate.
Vargas, 31, was part of a Washington Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the 2008 Virginia Tech massacre. He disclosed his undocumented status in the United States in a report in The New York Times in 2011.
He has since become a popular figure in the national campaign for immigration reform, making it to the cover of the June 25, 2012, issue of Time magazine.
Earlier this month, Vargas was invited to sit in the front row at a Las Vegas high school auditorium where US President Barack Obama announced an overhaul of the US immigration laws.
During his second inaugural address on Jan. 21, Obama again spoke about pressing for immigration reform.
“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our shores,” he said.
Obama has repeatedly pledged to make the immigration reform bill one of his top legislative priorities.
The bill includes dealing with border security, enforcement measures for businesses that employ undocumented immigrants, and the status of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, including young people seeking college degrees or admission into military service.
Vargas recounted before the Senate committee how he discovered his undocumented status as a teenager and how he kept it a secret as a working journalist. He related how his mother, Emilie Salinas, sent him to California in 1993 when he was 12 to live with his grandparents.
“My mother gave me up to give me a better life,” he told the committee.
As part of his Senate testimony, Vargas introduced members of his family who sat behind him: His grandmother Leonila Salinas and aunt Aida Rivera, who raised him, and his uncle Conrad Salinas, who served in the US Navy for 20 years.
“I am the only one in my extended family of 25 Americans who is undocumented,” he said. “When you inaccurately call me ‘illegal,’ you’re not only dehumanizing me, you’re [also] offending them. No human being is illegal.”
Vargas—who has been promoting the passage of the Dream Act, which would open a pathway to the legalization of the status of thousands of undocumented young immigrants—called for an immigration reform that is “fair” and “humane.”
“Let us remember that immigration is not merely about borders,” he said at the hearing that was the Senate’s first step toward crafting a comprehensive immigration reform bill. “Immigration is about our future. Immigration is about all of us,” he said.
Path to citizenship
“We dream of a path to citizenship so we can actively participate in our American democracy,” added Vargas, who has also launched the “Define American” campaign to harness support for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, 1 million of whom are Filipinos.
“We dream of not being separated from our families and our loved ones regardless of sexual orientation, no matter our skill set,” Vargas said.
The committee heard testimony from individuals with various areas of expertise and political agendas, including Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. With additional reporting from Inquirer Research